“The IMF and the World Bank have over-indebted my country. Their structural adjustment programs have pushed women into microcredit, supported by the World Bank… Many microcredit institutions lead them to over-indebtedness and impoverishment”.
By Fátima Martín, Femenino Rural
To be a woman, poor, and African. Here are the three favorite criteria for microcredit vultures who, under the pretext of fighting poverty and with the blessing of organizations such as the United Nations (UNDP), USAID or the European Investment Bank, cheat, defraud, ruin them. Their victims are threatened and even incarcerated, as in Mali, they lose their families, fall into prostitution, commit suicide, as in Morocco, or get into over-indebtment to avoid dying for not being able to afford a Caesarean section, as in Congo Brazzaville. Now African women from different countries are combining their forces to free themselves from the subjugation of microfinance. We had the opportunity to meet and interview Fatima Zahra from Morocco, Amélie from Congo Brazzaville, Émilie du Bénin and Fatimata from Mali on the occasion of the World Assembly of the International Network of the Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debts (CADTM) held last April in Tunis. They shared their experiences with us.
Fatimata Boundy is a Malian retired teacher. She says dozens of women are imprisoned in her country because they cannot cope with debts arising from microcredit representing about 150,000 CFA francs (228 euros). These women are usually engaged in informal activities, small businesses, street vending, etc. When they are no longer able to pay the undue interest demanded of them, they are pressured and confiscated, and even imprisoned. No trial has yet taken place. “We called for international solidarity. A women’s meeting will also be held in Mali in 2017”, assures us Fatimata.
This event will follow the International Caravan of Women Against Microcredit organized in the Ouarzazate region of Morocco in 2014. Fatimata was able to listen to the testimonies of Moroccan victims. “Following her debts, one of these women lost her job and her husband. His only son had no choice but to go adventure. I put myself in her place and her pain invaded me. That day I cried”, she says.
Fatima Zahra: “International finance has strategic interests in the North and in the South. Poverty is his market”.
Fatima Zahra, a 30-year-old Moroccan studying French, explains that microfinance agents are contracting microcredits with interest rates up to 45% with women who can not read or write. They do not hesitate to visit their homes to identify any possessions of value acting as collateral. Once these women are no longer able to pay, they return to see them at home and force them to sell their belongings. “Some are prostituting, others commit suicide or flee their homes due to humiliation and lose their families. Children also suffer the full impact of microcredit, forced to end their studies to help their mothers to repay. These microcredit institutions go so far as to offer loans to students still in high school. The consequences are both psychological and social, she explains.
With 12 institutions, more than 1 million active clients and an exposure of 500 million euros, the microfinance sector in Morocco is the most dynamic in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa), after Jaïda (the Fund for the financing of microfinance organizations in Morocco). Its website also indicates without any embarrassment that “the interest rate is liberalized”.
Local microfinance institutions are protected by the dictatorial regime, Majzén, financed by the Moroccan financial sector (Bank-Al-Maghrib) or the CDG (Caisse de Dépôt et de Gestion), by the foreign financial sector and even subsidized by International organizations such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation Development (AECID).
For example, among the founding shareholders of Jaïda are German and French entities that are supposed to support development such as KfW (German Development Bank), CDC (French Depository and Consignment Bank) and AFD (French Development Agency). It is not uncommon to find important national or international personalities behind these microcredit institutions. The INMAA microcredit association is linked to the NGO AMSED and to PlanetFinance, ‘sponsored’ by Jacques Attali, founder of Action contre la faim, while Al Amana raised as honorary president Driss Jettu, former first Minister of Morocco under Mohamed VI.
“International finance has strategic interests in the North and the South. Poverty is its market”, says Fatima Zahra. She believes that the movement of associations of the victims of microcredit is very important for “women who have managed to free themselves from all patriarchal dogmas, to go out on the streets to fight neoliberal policies and stop paying back. Women who rebel against the austerity imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), the real responsibles. We did not won all the battles but we continue the fight”.
“Women either go into debt through microcredit for medical assistance, or they die because they cannot afford a caesarean”.
Amélie Kiyindou, a pharmaceutical representative in Congo Brazzaville, explained how her country had accepted the IMF’s and the World Bank’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. Given the lack of investment in health programs, women have to choose between borrowing through microcredit to receive medical assistance or die because they can not afford a Caesarean section.
“Microcredit presents itself as a way out of poverty, but in reality women are forced to repay more than they earn, so that the borrowing gets interlocked. Those who are aware of the negative consequences are trying to inform the public about the risks of the vicious circle of indebtedness”, she adds. Surprisingly, the IMF is promoting conferences titled “Finance for All: Promoting Financial Inclusion in Central Africa”, which encourages women, the pillars of their families, to fall into the clutches of microfinance.
“The IMF and the World Bank have over-indebted my country. Henceforth, the same austerity made its way to the North”.
Emilie Atchaka, a Benin peasant, found a self-managed solution to the financing needs of women in her community. Her husband found himself unemployed as a result of the draconian structural adjustment programs imposed by the IMF on his country since 1989. As a mother of four, she had to make a living for the whole family. Inspired by a traditional collection system in Africa called tontine, she founded the Circle of Autopromotion for Sustainable Development (CADD), “our own bank of women who commit themselves to training”, which applies low interests. “We have put in place this alternative because the government does not assume its responsibility”, she said.
Émilie says that microcredit companies go so far as to make public by radio the names of women who fail to repay their loans. For her, “all this makes us think a lot. The IMF and the World Bank have over-indebted my country. Their structural adjustment programs have pushed women into microcredit, financed by the World Bank. This instrument ruins them, leading them to over-indebtedness and impoverishment. It has no social dimension and is aimed at profit alone. Henceforth, the same austerity made its way to the North, an austerity that did not involve any development. All peoples must be wary of these microcredit institutions, which are the small hands of the World Bank. These institutions must be monitored closely and eliminated”.
Translated from French by Leopoldo Salmaso